In experiments in the lab and with guinea pigs, researchers from Johns Hopkins have found the first evidence that genetically engineered heart cells derived from human embryonic stem (ES) cells might one day be a promising biological alternative to the electronic pacemakers used by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.
Electronic pacemakers are used in children and adults with certain heart conditions that interfere with a normal heartbeat. However, these life-saving devices cant react the way the hearts own pacemaker normally does -- for example, raising the heart rate to help us climb stairs or react to a scary movie.
In the researchers experiments, described in the Dec. 20 advance online edition of Circulation, human ES cells were genetically engineered to make a green protein, grown in the lab and then encouraged to become heart cells. The researchers then selected clusters of the cells that beat on their own accord, indicating the presence of pacemaking cells. These clusters triggered the unified beating of heart muscle cells taken from rats, and, when implanted into the hearts of guinea pigs, triggered regular beating of the heart itself.
Joanna Downer | EurekAlert!
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